A legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
The once seemingly untouchable former Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver was found guilty on seven counts of corruption last week.
The jury convicted the former Speaker of manipulating the political system to ultimately receive $4 million in kickbacks.
He now potentially faces a lifetime in prison.
To understand the significance of this situation and how it happened, it’s important to remember that Sheldon Silver dominated the Assembly for more than 20 years and his power was not structurally limited.
He solely controlled the way ethics investigations were run, he determined which bills made it to the floor of the house, and he determined what resources and staff individual Assembly members received.
Silver embraced the three-men-in-a-room budget process where the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Assembly Speaker divvied how state money is spent leaving rank and file members of the legislature on the sidelines.
Since his conviction, there again are calls for ethics reforms.
Unfortunately, many of the proposals being vetted, like public campaign financing and creating a full-time legislature, do not address Albany’s culture of corruption.
Public financing of campaigns or having full-time legislators will not prevent sexual harassment, member item abuse or bribery.
Rather, both would cost the public millions more in taxpayer dollars every year, a bill residents and business owners in this state do not need.
A common sense reform that would change Albany for the better would be imposing term limits on leadership positions so that one person cannot serve for more than eight years in a leadership position.
Such a rule would have limited Silver’s influence and therefore would have made it more difficult for him to commit the crimes he committed.
Without question, this upcoming session the Assembly should move to limit the Speaker’s term.
Other rules reform that should be instituted include (i) requiring public hearings on legislation; and (ii) strengthening and providing more independence to our Assembly standing committees.
Along with these changes, let’s also adopt ethics reforms such as: (i) requiring elected officials convicted of a felony to forfeit their state pensions; (ii) creating an independent Assembly ethics committee as opposed to an ethics committee that is directly controlled by the Speaker; and (iii) requiring that any complaint made against an Assembly member or staff member to be referred directly to the ethics committee.
Given Silver’s conviction, Albany should work hard to prevent this type of corruption from taking root again.
Silver broke the law, but he was able to do so because the system provided him with unchecked power.
Without better checks and balances that will decentralize power, this type of activity has real potential to continue.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.
You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.